Did Pakistan poison the CIA station chief in Islamabad?

US embassy Islamabad PakistanA leading article in The Washington Post suggests that the United States Central Intelligence Agency suspected that its most senior officer in Pakistan was poisoned by the host country’s intelligence services, in an attempt to kill him. The CIA pulled its station chief from Islamabad in the summer of 2011, two months after Operation NEPTUNE SPEAR, which saw the killing in Abbottabad of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. The CIA official, who has since been identified as Mark Kelton, acted as the senior US intelligence representative in the Asian country. He had assumed the post, which was supposed to last at least two years, only seven months earlier. His abrupt removal raised questions, which were informally answered by Langley. There were rumors that Kelton’s return to the US was health-related, but that the decision to replace him was also affected by his extremely poor relations with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, Pakistan’s powerful spy service.

On Thursday, however, The Washington Post’s Greg Miller said in a leading article that Kelton’s illness, which led to his replacement, had been so violent that it led him and others in the CIA to suspect that he had been poisoned. Prior to replacing him, the Agency had repeatedly flown the official back to the US for medical treatment, which proved fruitless. Eventually, some at Langley began to examine the possibility that the Pakistanis had poisoned Kelton, at a time when relations between the CIA and the ISI had sunk to unprecedented lows. Miller cites unnamed US intelligence officials who confirmed that the CIA had strong suspicions that Kelton had been deliberately poisoned. Even if the suspicions were groundless, said Miller, “the idea that the CIA and its station chief considered the ISI capable of such an act suggests that the breakdown in trust [between the two agencies] was even worse than widely assumed”.

Kelton has since recovered and assumed the post of deputy director for counterintelligence at the CIA before retiring from the Agency. The 59-year-old has since revealed his CIA background and even spoke with Miller on the phone as the Post correspondent was preparing his story. Although he declined Miller’s request for a detailed interview, the former CIA Islamabad station chief said that the initial suspicions about his poisoning “did not originate with” him. He added, however, that he would “rather let that whole episode lie”. The CIA told Miller that it had not uncovered any concrete evidence that the elements in the Pakistani government had poisoned Kelton. The embassy of Pakistan in Washington told The Washington Post that Miller’s story was “fictional and not worthy of comment”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 May 2016 | Permalink

Were Pakistani spies behind 2009 attack that killed seven CIA employees?

FOB ChapmanTwo recently declassified United States government documents suggest that Pakistani intelligence officers may have been behind a suicide attack that killed seven employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan. The attack took place at the Forward Operating Base Chapman, a US military outpost in Khost, Afghanistan. It was carried out by Humam al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who posed as a disillusioned member of al-Qaeda and had convinced his CIA handlers that he could lead them to the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s deputy Emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri. During a scheduled visit to FOB Chapman on December 30, 2009, al-Balawi detonated a suicide vest, instantly killing himself and nine other people, including a Jordanian intelligence officer and seven CIA employees. The bloody incident, which marked the most lethal attack against the CIA in nearly three decades, was widely blamed on al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

However, a set of newly released US State Department cables seem to suggest that Pakistani intelligence may have been behind the attack. The documents were released by George Washington University’s National Security Archive through a Freedom of Information Act request. One document, dated January 11, 2010, discusses the FOB Chapman attack in association with the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned Pashtun militant group that operates in Afghanistan but is headquartered in Pakistan. Western security observers have long considered the Haqqani network to be a paramilitary arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. The January 11 State Department cable suggests that senior Haqqani network operatives met with their ISI handlers at least twice in the weeks prior to the FOB Chapman attack. Another cable, dated February 6, 2010, suggests that the ISI gave the Haqqani operatives $200,000 to step up attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan. A specific order was given at the meeting to carry out “the attack on Chapman [and] to enable a suicide mission by an unnamed Jordanian national”, presumably al-Balawi.

But an unnamed US intelligence official, who read the declassified documents, told the Associated Press news agency that the documents were “information report[s], not finally evaluated intelligence”. The material was thus “raw, unverified and uncorroborated”, said the official, and clashed with the broad consensus in the US Intelligence Community, which was that the attack was planned by al-Qaeda, not by the Haqqani network. The Associated Press contacted the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC, about the National Security Archive revelations, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2016 | Permalink

Pakistani spies fear up to 100 million citizen records may have been stolen

NADRAA report by Pakistan’s main intelligence agency warns that the personal records of up to 100 million Pakistanis may have been stolen by foreign intelligence agencies due to the alleged links of a software vendor with Israel. The Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s premier spy agency, said that the software used by the National Data base and Registration Authority (NADRA), which issues national identity cards on behalf of the government of Pakistan, is not secure and should be replaced by an “indigenous” software product.

Established in 1998 as the National Database Organization, NADRA operates under Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior. Its main mission is to register and fingerprint every Pakistani citizen and supply every adult in the country with a secure Computerized National Identity Card. This has proven to be a Herculean task in a country of 182 million, of whom just over half are over the age of 18. Consequently, the NADRA electronic database contains files on over 96 million Pakistanis, making it one of the world’s largest centralized databases.

But the ISI warned in a recently authored report that the NADRA database may have been compromised through the software that the agency uses to digitize and store fingerprints. According to the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune, which published a summary of the ISI report on Monday, “the thumb-digitiser system [used by NADRA] was purchased from a French company of Israeli origin”. The report refers to the Automatic Finger Print Identification System, known as AFIS, which NADRA has been using since 2004. The software was purchased for close to $10 million from Segem (now called Morpho), a leading global vendor of identity software. The company is based in France, but the ISI report states that has connections with Israel, a country that Pakistan does not officially recognize and has no diplomatic relations with. Because of that, says the ISI report, the entire content of NADRA’s database may have been accessed by the Israeli Mossad, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, India’s Research and Analysis Wing, and other spy agencies seen as “hostile” by Islamabad.

Officials from NADRA refused to respond to the Express Tribune’s allegations, or to acknowledge that the ISI had indeed contacted the agency with concerns about the AFIS database. But a NADRA senior technical expert, who spoke anonymously to the paper, claimed that the ISI’s concerns were unfounded, since NADRA’s servers were not connected to the World Wide Web and were therefore impossible to access from the outside. Another NADRA official told the Express Tribune that Segem was the only international vendor of fingerprint recognition systems in 2004, when NADRA purchased the software product. Additionally, the Ministry of the Interior successfully sought ISI’s approval prior to purchasing the software. Last but not least, NADRA officials pointed out that the Pakistani Armed Forces are also using Segem software products.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 September 2015 | Permalink

Pakistan spy chief who helped US covert activities in Soviet-Afghan war dies

Hamid GulGeneral Hamid Gul, a controversial Pakistani spymaster who helped facilitate America’s covert involvement during the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, has died at the age of 72. General Gul entered military service in 1956, aged 20, and saw action in two of Pakistan’s wars with India. He rose to power within the military through his close association with General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who became Pakistan’s sixth president in 1977. In 1987, shortly before President Zia died in a plane crash, General Gul was promoted to director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, which is known as ISI. In that capacity, he oversaw the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, which had begun nearly a decade later and gradually led to a resounding defeat for the Soviets.

As head of the ISI, General Gul helped the intelligence agencies of several countries, including those of Saudi Arabia and the United States, engage covertly in the war taking place across the Hindu Kush. In particular, he helped facilitate the transfer of foreign funds and weaponry to Sunni mujahedeen forces who were fighting the Soviets. It was from within the ranks of these forces that groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban later emerged.

General Gul was never shy about his close operational links with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. He maintained close contact with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and with the late Mullah Muhammad Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban. However, at the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War, Washington gradually disassociated itself from Sunni fundamentalist groups, including the Taliban. But General Gul maintained his public support for Muslim-inspired militant groups, among them Lashkar-e-Taiba, which operates in Indian-controlled Kashmir. As America began distancing itself from its former Afghan allies, and siding instead with India, General Gul’s relations with Washington worsened dramatically. In 2009, the General gave one of many controversial interviews to the media, in which he condemned the increasing military and political collaboration between the US and India. He noted that “the Americans and Israel [are] hell-bent” on positioning India to the role of overseer of “60 per cent of the world’s trade [which] passes through the Indian Ocean”, including transport routes of “Gulf oil, bound for China and Japan”.

In later years, General Gul became a vocal critic of US foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, spoke out against the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and publicly supported the Taliban insurgency against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan. He is survived by a widow and three children.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2015 | Permalink

German spies helped US find bin Laden, claims German newspaper

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence gave the United States a tip of “fundamental importance” about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, which helped the Americans locate him in Pakistan, according to a German media report. Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper, Bild am Sontag, said in its Sunday edition that the tip allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to corroborate separate intelligence tips pointing to the possibility that the wanted Saudi terrorist may have been hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Citing an unnamed “American intelligence official”, Bild said the tip was given to the CIA by its German equivalent, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, known in Germany as BND. It said the critical information originated from an agent handled by the BND inside Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). The agent was an officer of the ISI but had secretly worked as an agent of the BND “for years”, said the German newspaper.

The tip was eventually communicated by the Germans to the CIA, and was used by the American agency to corroborate information from a number of other sources, which eventually led to the decision to send a Special Forces team to kill the al-Qaeda leader. According to the German paper, the CIA was already leaning toward the view that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. However, the BND tip was “of fundamental importance” in enabling the CIA to make up its mind as to bin Laden’s whereabouts, said Bild. Moreover, the BND’s Pakistani agent allegedly told the German agency that the ISI leadership was protecting bin Laden while holding him under house arrest. If true, the Bild information would seem to confirm allegations made by American reporter Seymour Hersh and security expert R.J. Hillhouse that Pakistani leaders had secretly imprisoned the al-Qaeda founder in Abbottabad. The Bild article goes on to claim that German intelligence used its Bad Aibling Station listening posts to monitor the Pakistani government’s communications so as to help ensure that the planned American attack on bin Laden’s compound was not being anticipated by Islamabad.

However, in reporting on Bild’s allegations, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel questions the validity of the tabloid newspaper’s argument. Why, it asks, would the BND’s Pakistani agent approach his German handlers with the information about bin Laden’s whereabouts, instead of going directly to the Americans? Had the agent followed the latter course of action, he or she could have been able to claim the lucrative reward offered by the US Department of State in exchange for information that would help locate the al-Qaeda founder.

Hersh: Pakistanis gave CIA permission to kill bin Laden

Osama bin LadenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Journalist Seymour Hersh has cited senior American intelligence officials in claiming that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a joint operation between the United States and Pakistan. In a lengthy article published over the weekend in The London Review of Books, the veteran investigative reporter suggests that Pakistan had kept the al-Qaeda founder in prison for several years in the city of Abbottabad. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate —known commonly as ISI— had planned to turn bin Laden over to the US in its own time, in a quid-pro-quo move. But the Pakistanis’ plan had to be scrapped when bin Laden’s hideout was betrayed to the Central Intelligence Agency by a former ISI officer, says Hersh. His assertion agrees with previous accounts of the US raid against bin Laden, offered by security expert R.J. Hillhouse in 2011, and earlier this year by Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, who led the ISI from 1990 to 1992.

The unnamed sources behind Hersh’s claims are an American “retired senior intelligence official” who was privy to early intelligence concerning bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Hersh also cites “information from inside Pakistan”, as well as two other sources from America, who have been “longtime consultants to the [US] Special Operations Command”.

The initial tip about bin Laden’s whereabouts came to the CIA in the form of a ‘walk-in’ —a term used to denote someone who voluntarily contacts an intelligence outpost, usually by simply walking into an embassy or consulate and asking to speak to the intelligence officer on duty. Hersh says the walk-in was a former high official in the ISI, who told the Agency’s Islamabad station that he could lead them to the al-Qaeda founder’s location. The retired official was successfully polygraphed and was eventually able to claim the $25 million reward offered by the US Department of State for bin Laden’s head. He and his family are now living in the Washington, DC, area, says Hersh.

The walk-in told the CIA that the compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was living was “not an armed enclave”, as Langley had initially assumed. Instead it was a prison and was under the complete control of the ISI. The latter had managed to capture bin Laden in the Hindu Kush Mountains in 2006, by paying off some of the local tribesmen who were sheltering him. Hersh also reiterates information previously reported by intelNews, namely that the government of Saudi Arabia had entered into an agreement with Islamabad to finance the construction and maintenance of bin Laden’s prison-compound in Abbottabad.

According to Hersh, the US government eventually informed Pakistan that it had uncovered and was incessantly monitoring bin Laden’s location. Along with threats, Washington offered the ISI commanders, who were in charge of bin Laden’s security, “under-the-table personal incentives” to agree to stand aside during a US raid on the compound. Under the final agreement, struck at the end of January 2011, the Americans promised to send in a small force that would kill bin Laden, thus sparing Islamabad and Riyadh the embarrassment of the al-Qaeda founder speaking out about his previously close relations with both governments. The Pakistanis even provided the CIA with accurate architectural diagrams of the compound. Accordingly, when the US forces went into Abbottabad in May of that year, “they knew where the target was —third floor, second door on the right”, says the retired US intelligence official quoted by Hersh.

The veteran journalist adds that the American planners of the operation knew well that bin Laden had been held in virtual isolation from the outside world for years, and that he was not “running a command center for al-Qaeda operations” from Abbottabad, as the White House later claimed. Consequently, the stories about “garbage bags full of computers and storage devices” that the US Navy SEALs brought back from the compound were false. Some of the SEALs took with them some books and papers found in bin Laden’s bedroom. But most of the material that was eventually acquired by the CIA was voluntarily provided to the Americans by the Pakistanis, who took control of the compound immediately after the SEALs left and eventually razed it.

Ex-spy chief says Pakistan probably knew bin Laden’s whereabouts

Osama bin LadenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A former director of Pakistan’s all-powerful national intelligence agency has said that senior officials in Pakistan were probably aware that Osama bin Laden was living in the country prior to his assassination. Lieutenant General Asad Durrani led the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from 1990 to 1992. He was later appointed Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany, from 1994 to 1997, and then to Saudi Arabia until 2002.

Durrani was asked during an appearance on Al-Jazeera’s flagship interview program Head to Head, on Tuesday, whether he believed that the al-Qaeda founder could have been living in Pakistan for several years without the ISI knowing about it. The former spy chief said he had no specific information on the issue. He added, however, that although “it is quite possible that [the ISI] did not know”, his personal assessment was that “it was more probable that they did”.

The former ISI strongman was then asked why the ISI would have chosen to shelter bin Laden instead of delivering him to the Americans. He responded that “the idea was that at the right time his location would be revealed” to Washington. He added that “the right time” would have depended on when Islamabad could have received “the necessary quid pro quo”. Speaking with characteristic frankness, Durrani said that “if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States” without asking for something in return. In the case of Pakistan, the reward would possibly have been a bilateral agreement between the US and Pakistan to give the latter greater say over America’s dealings with neighboring Afghanistan.

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